John Hegarty has a history of building successful businesses, and his new Genie model using AI to match clients with freelance creatives makes good sense—on paper.
But as John himself says, good is the enemy of the great, and I believe that to produce great work that sells, it takes more than a temporary AI fix.
I will follow Genie’s progress with interest, and I may well want to use some of its freelancers myself, but I still argue that it’s the wrong approach to building brands and creating the best work. To do that takes more than just individual talent, it takes culture and consistency—neither of which is provided by a wholly freelance model.
Freelance is a wonderful stop gap. On the surface, it makes financial sense for marketers and promises flexibility for creatives. Indeed, like many agencies, we use some outstanding freelancers when the need arises, and anyone facilitating that option can be a valuable resource for us.
Freelance talent invariably needs to be brought up to speed on a project. They need to understand a brand’s continuing vision, and to tune into the nuances of how it likes to speak to its consumers and employees. All by Friday at 5pm, please.
But brands aren’t built on a freelance contract. They aren’t built overnight; they are built by client-agency teams working closely together over time with a shared ambition to solve business challenges and develop long-term, impactful campaigns.
In this way a creative agency is no different to, say, a Michelin starred restaurant. A fine restaurant needs a committed, passionate team who know each other, know the customer and understand the techniques and principles required to produce the goods. A transient workforce might be okay for McDonald’s but it just won’t cut it at The Connaught. Consistency and culture again.
Many agencies are struggling to build that consistency and culture with the new project-based model that an increasing number of clients prefer. Forecasting, finances and staffing correctly to deliver quality is a tricky business problem for agency growth and health.
But while it’s financially risky for us to hire the best talent outright when we don’t always have the security of long-term contracts, we do it anyway because it’s best for the culture, the consistency – and most important of all, it’s best for the client.
It also works for staff. Aside from the security of a salary and benefits, being part of a committed, passionate and supremely talented team means we all get the training and nurturing we need throughout our career.
We invest in CPD for all our staff because it helps them to grow. And all of this helps our clients’ sales to grow at the same time. And because our permanent staff are too utterly intrinsic to our success, top class health and insurance benefits come as standard.
Many clients no longer see the need for a “retained” relationship. We understand and we’ve adapted to that. But it’s testament to our unswerving belief in the idea that consistency and culture give clients the best bang for their buck, that the majority of our non-retained clients have continued their relationship with us over the past three years. And that consistency is yielding results.
Here’s to long-term relationships, staff and clients. Because – as John Hegarty himself proved when at BBH with clients including Audi, Levi’s and Lynx – that’s where great happens.
Ben Walker is a co-founder of Who Wot Why